TL;DR Favourite chicken gets sick, and surprisingly, recovers.
BattleChicken is the friendliest bird in our flock. She’s more like a dog than a chicken, and at almost five years old, she is one of the oldest too. K named her, because from the time she was a chick, every time she saw us outside, she hurried over and pushed herself at us like a Pokémon wanting to battle. BattleChicken really lived up to her name this past summer, when she got sick.
A vaccinated hatchery bird, Battle had been quite healthy all her life, but in May, she started stumbling. By June, she couldn’t walk, so I sadly moved her into sick bay.
Thinking the end was near, and not wanting her to suffer, K and I started debating the most gentle culling methods. But although her legs were gibbled, she stayed plump and spunky, and that made it easy for us to put the whole thing off.
Her private room had a wire floor that she used as leverage to get to her food and drink, and to put herself to bed in the adjoining cubby. She kept eating, and keeping herself clean, and being interested in the world. She just couldn’t walk.
June passed with little change in her condition and K and I started discussing culling again. We’d give her the summer, but she couldn’t spend the winter alone in sick bay, she would get too cold and lonely. When the time was right, we would do the humane, responsible thing.
Knowing she was bored in sick bay, I started bringing her out to flop around the barnyard in the late afternoons when I was out there too. At first, the roosters went after her, stomping and pecking. I think their instincts told them her vulnerability was a danger to their flocks. But after I made it clear she was MY hen, not theirs, they left her alone.
At first she would just lay there nibbling the grass, and then slowly but surely, she started to move. First she conquered sitting upright, balancing on her paralyzed legs and steadying herself with outstretched wingtips. Soon, she was using her wings and body to squirm a few inches this way or that.
Days turned into weeks, and Battle’s afternoon constitutional became routine. A little too routine, because one day I clean forgot to put her away. A couple hours later it hit me, and I flew outside with dread in my heart, certain I was going to find nothing but a small pile of black feathers. When I got to the barnyard, she was nowhere! I frantically hunted around, but she was gone.
I had started walking over to find K, to share my bad news, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a fluttering movement in the barn’s deep shadows. It was BattleChicken! Somehow, this paralyzed chicken had managed to go through a wire fence, across a horse paddock, and into the safety of the donkey’s stall where the hawks would never venture, for fear of angry donkeys.
Throughout August, Battle began to spend more and more time outside. Now that I knew she could seek shelter, I could give her what she wanted; her freedom. She practiced her unique gait until she was pretty good at getting around at full speed, using her wings for a bit of height plus forward momentum and steering, and her legs as gimpy propellers. Because she still couldn’t stand.
It was funny and inspiring to watch her determination, and more than one visitor raised an eyebrow when they noticed our special needs chicken spasming around the barnyard.
Now that she was getting around, and able to defend herself with her by-now-supernaturally-strong wings, I decided to try to put her back with the flock. She would need to re-integrate to make it through the winter, and I was starting to think that might be possible. Getting up the ramp into her home flock’s coop was going to be a problem for her though.
Remembering how well Hoppy had been accepted by my Marans flock, and knowing that Hoppy and Battle were the same breed, and that birds of a feather like flocking together, I started taking Battle over to Hoppy’s place for yvisits.
Hoppy never free ranged with the rest of her flock, she stayed inside the pen, even when the door was open and everyone else was all over the barnyard. I would drop Battle off, and she would settle down and keep Hoppy company all afternoon. One evening when I went put Battle away in her coop, she had already gone to bed on the nest next door to Hoppy, so I left her. She had her new flock, and her new best friend.
In early September, we went away for five weeks, leaving Battle and the rest in K and L’s capable hands. When we got home Battle was walking! Wings tucked at her sides, head held high, she stalked awkwardly up to me and said hello.
We have been home for a month now, and Battle walks almost as gracefully as before she got sick. She still spends much of her time with Hoppy, even though Hoppy won’t free range and Battle loves to. And the two of them sleep in next door nests every night.
It took BattleChicken four months to learn to walk again, after what I suspect was some sort of brain injury. Her personality is just the same, she’s still the friendliest chicken in our valley. In fact, Battle’s personality probably saved her life. It’s why we put off culling her when she got so sick. K and I are both pretty happy that our friendly BattleChicken will live to fight another day.